NOTE: A previous version of this blog post mischaracterized the feelings of Vanessa Davis toward President Obama’s first term. She is not disappointed in the president’s administration. The post has been updated to reflect this correction.
UPDATED Sept. 5:
Dear Mitt Romney,
Amazing. Beautiful. Classy. Poignant. Skillful. Our first lady made us proud.
I half-watched the speakers leading up to our first lady, busying around the house as they spoke. But when Michelle Obama sauntered onto the stage, I found myself planted in front of the TV, my fingers dancing across the keyboard, tweeting her comments that resonated most with me.
Our forebears “had unwavering hope grounded in unyielding struggle. That’s what makes us great,” she said. “I love that we can trust Obama to do what he says even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard.” That line resonated, too. “We must work harder than ever before.”
I called my friend Sharon Jenkins, who is working as a communications volunteer at the convention now, as she did four years ago. What did she think about the speech? “Amazing, beautiful, classy,” she said. “She made me so proud.”
Mr. Romney, even if it had been Hillary Clinton speaking to us about persevering through struggles, reminding us that times can be so hard that you can see the pavement through a rusted-out hole in your car, we, as Americans would have felt proud. This is a pride based on our collective appreciation of triumph over struggle, our collective beliefs in rainbows after the storms. This pride transcends race and class.
ORIGINAL, Sept. 4: Dear Mitt Romney,
When our first lady gives her keynote address at the Democratic National Convention tonight at 10:30, I and millions more around the country will be tuned in. We still love our president and believe in the work he is doing. We are looking forward to Mrs. Obama’s praise of her husband’s performance. We are not giddy school girls in love, mind you. We’ve had some tough times with our president. The honeymoon has passed, and the real work of moving this country forward has begun. But we made a commitment four years ago, and we will see this through.
You were wrong, Mr. Romney. You and your crew imagined that four years after a fervent, feverish push to elect the first African American president, supporters now lie on our backs, staring up at fading Obama posters, disappointed and feeling duped. At your convention last week, you posed what you thought was a loaded question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” You posited that we are not as excited about President Obama as we were about candidate Obama. Wrong, wrong and wrong, Mr. Romney. You and your crew were observant enough to notice the current lack of Obama-related commercialism. But that’s because people are out of party mode and into work mode.
Yes, in 2008 there were Obama T-shirts, buttons, flags, caps and coffee mugs everywhere you looked. Yes, in 2008 those of us who still had full-time office jobs spent some of our time exchanging exciting snapshots, news updates and many musings about our would-be first black family in the White House. We were excited out of our minds. Many of us had not even believed that Americans would elect a black man to represent our country on the world’s stage. We were hopeful indeed. In 2008, we huddled around large TV screens at sports bars and restaurants to watch the results of pivotal primaries. We screamed when Obama was declared winner in Ohio. We hosted watch parties in our homes for his historic nomination acceptance speech, and we clamored for coveted tickets to his inauguration.
This year, we haven’t been as addictively glued to MSNBC or CNN. Times have changed, and so have we. Some of us have lost jobs and, finding none, learned to market our skills and create new employment opportunities. Some of us who had never volunteered for a political campaign before found ourselves immersed in Obama’s and became enriched in ways that you, Mr. Romney, and your crew cannot imagine.
There are some African American women in Prince George’s County, for instance, who are better off today than they were four years ago. And, I’m betting that they are representative of millions more around the country who are better off in ways you and your team would not count.
Vanessa Davis, who volunteered 16-hour days managing what became Maryland’s grass-roots headquarters for Obama, based in Largo, is better off. Her retirement portfolio, which had begun declining in Bush’s final days, is on the rebound. But also, out of her excitement for Obama’s first campaign, she and other ’08 campaign volunteers formed a lasting friendship that has brought them together once a month through the past four years to discuss politics and community service. One friend Davis met in the ’08 campaign, Yvette Lewis, a resident of Prince George’s, has gone on to become chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, and two others who volunteered with Davis in Obama’s ’08 campaign, Jackie Garrison, of Glen Arden, and LaFonda Fenwick, of Bowie, are in Charlotte this week as delegates.
“We are better off, and if we don’t put Obama back in, we’ll see how much better off we were,” Davis said when I tossed her your question. “Yes, today I’m better off because my retirement has started to grow again,” said Davis, who retired as a Verizon manager after 30 years. “It’s not back at the level it was, but it’s starting to grow again. It was going down every month when Bush was in office. Now it’s going back up.”
Davis and her husband live in Prince George’s but are planning to move to South Africa in a year or two. Meanwhile, she also plans to volunteer for Obama’s 2012 campaign in the coming weeks. She has written checks in recent months, but in the upcoming weeks she will volunteer on phone banks on Obama’s behalf.
“His heart is in the right place – for everybody in the country,” Davis says. “A lot of people want to say he’s not doing enough for black folks. Do you think Romney is going to do more for you?” Mr. Romney, she is certain you won’t.
Mr. Romney, even my friends and family who are disappointed that Obama didn’t push back hard enough against your party’s agenda of obstruction and sabotage will vote for him over you. And even my friend who frowns at Obama’s support for same-sex marriage will choose Obama over you in November.
Even Prince George’s County’s Tamara Davis Brown, who in 2008 was chair of the Surratts-Clinton Democratic Club, which merged with two other southern Prince George’s County clubs, is sticking with Obama.
“I think four years are not long enough to turn around all that Obama had to turn around,” she said. “So, I’m equally excited about his campaign this year – to give the president and his administration an opportunity to turn this economy around. I think it mirrors what President Clinton was able to do – deliver a balanced budget at the end of his second term.” She thinks Obama can do that if your party eases up on its obstructionism. “If the make up of Congress stays the same, I would like to see Republicans more cooperative instead of being the party of obstruction,” Davis Brown said.
Sonsyrea Tate Montgomery is a contributing writer for The Root D.C. She is also author of “Little X: Growing Up in the Nation of Islam” and “Do Me Twice: My Life After Islam.” Follow her on Twitter @Sonsyrea.
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